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Lancaster: A Hidden Gem On The Automated Vehicle Community’s Radar

Just 15 miles south of Dallas, a handful of Kodiak Robotics employees spend their days perfecting the startup's self-driving freight trucks inside the quiet DFW suburb of Lancaster.

Historic Market Depot and Rose Garden in Lancaster.

In Lancaster, California-based Kodiak Robotics found a North Texas suburb with enough land, highway access and intermodal transportation to satisfy its appetite for space in the AV-friendly state of Texas.

“North Texas in particular is a very favorable spot for [AV] deployment because the regulatory environment is very good for AV developers through a state law that is viewed positively by the AV development community,” said Thomas Bamonte, senior program manager for automated vehicles with the North Central Texas Council of Governments.  

Bamonte works with AV companies shopping for hubs in North Texas, and he knows of several companies looking for AV testing space in DFW right now. 

Kodiak is one of them, and it already found the right fit in Lancaster once before. 

“They looked very diligently in the region, and they were by all reports very pleased by what they found in Lancaster,” Bamonte said. 

Lancaster is hosting Bisnow's DFW Industrial & Logistics Outlook event Jan. 23.

Lancaster competed against other Texas cities to woo the California firm's first Texas site. The city checked every box Kodiak had — connectivity to interstate highways, multimodal transportation opportunities, infrastructure and nearby airport access — Bamonte said.

Lancaster industrial offerings offer immediate access to major interstates, including I-35.

With automated trucks becoming the rage in the logistics community, the firm’s footprint in Lancaster has the potential to expand. 

"Over the next several years, Kodiak plans to grow significantly in Lancaster as we grow our operations and increase our ability to deliver freight for our customers,” Kodiak Robotics Vice President of Policy Jordan Coleman said in a statement to Bisnow.

“People in the South Dallas area can expect to see a lot more of our trucks on the road in the coming months and years,” Coleman said. 

Kodiak is a success story Lancaster hopes to parlay into future corporate relocations and business wins, not only with other AV companies, but also with logistics and tech firms that have the bandwidth to bring higher-paying jobs to the area.

“I think no matter what we do there is a market for manufacturing and warehouse space here,” Lancaster Research & Business Development Manager Karl Stundins said of the city's business footprint. 

Lancaster leased about 3.5M SF of its industrial warehouse space over the last couple of years, Stundins said.

City of Lancaster's Shane Shepard and Karl Stundins.

Stundins and Lancaster Director of Economic Development Shane Shepard are on a mission to change the public’s view of Lancaster and gain economic momentum from the arrival of Kodiak, while also generating energy from other South Dallas regional gains, including Google’s decision to plant a data center in nearby Midlothian. 

Lancaster, like Midlothian, has plenty of land — 33 square miles with about half of that land still available for development, Stundins and Shepard said. 

It has affordable residential real estate, a strong suburban school system, a workforce partner in Cedar Valley College and a vision for transforming its downtown’s historic patina into a next-generation hub that honors the city’s past while embracing resident demands of the future. 

Undeveloped land is sprawled around a 1950s-esque town square with retail and restaurant opportunities. Though Lancaster is hoping to preserve the historic nature of its downtown square, there is room for mixed-use development, and the city is looking for a development partner that can create the right infrastructure to attract more eclectic mom-and-pop shops, residential concepts and restaurants. 

Creative retail concepts and artists at risk of being priced out of the Dallas urban core could thrive in a revamped Downtown Lancaster, Shepard said. 

Lancaster's Town Square is ripe for redevelopment.

Despite having major successes in the industrial space with power players like Wayfair setting up fulfillment centers in Lancaster, the city is often referred to as a South Dallas suburb, rather than an independent city with enough flexibility to accommodate international companies while offering suburban amenities. 

“The challenge that we face is overcoming perceptions,” Stundins said. “Lancaster is much more like Waxahachie, Mansfield or Cedar Hill.” 

Some of how Lancaster will brand its future downtown and city is unknown, leaving developers room to play a key role in shaping the suburb’s future. 

“I think some of that [branding] is to be created because I think we have been a hidden area for decades,” Shepard said.

You can learn more about Lancaster and emerging DFW industrial hubs at Bisnow's DFW Industrial & Logistics Outlook event Jan. 23.